In order for a leadership team of any company to truly operate at a high-performance level, the leaders need to have the courage to look at themselves in the mirror, face reality and take stock of what is working and what is not working in their own team dynamic.
The ‘working’ part is easier than the ‘not working’ for obvious reasons. There are always challenges, tensions, and issues between teams and between leaders. At times, teams feel frustrated by the fact that other teams are not listening or providing the support they need. Some leaders feel their counterparts are complacent, arrogant or simply incompetent and not adding value.
A few recent examples I have encountered include:
- The Head of Sales feeling a lack of support from Marketing. He felt Marketing was not listening to Sales’ needs, they put on events that are not effective and overall not adding value.
- The Head of Manufacturing complaining that Sales keeps selling features that do not exist or promising delivery deadlines that the factory did not agree to and cannot keep.
- The Head of Sales being frustration about his Head of Services counterpart not being responsive and supportive because he is too focused on selling new services rather than supporting existing ones.
- The Head of an overlay function complaining about the lack of inclusion, collaboration, partnership and mere respect and appreciation of Sales.
I could go on and on, there are so many examples.
Leaders tend to take the critical conversations about their team, personally, so even when everyone knows that something is not working, in most cases leaders avoid addressing the issues in order to avoid the unpleasantness of conflict. When issues are addressed, they are often discussed in a wishy-washy, politically-correct, diplomatic and/or polite way.
If leaders want to elevate their trust and partnership, they have to find a way to engage in an honest and brave conversation to air the grievances, complaints, and frustrations they and their team members have about other teams and managers.
Obviously, it has to be done respectfully and productively. It also has to be done in an honest and direct way. Beating around the bush simply doesn’t resolve anything.
I recently had the opportunity to help a senior leader of a technology company in doing exactly that.
Each leader wrote the key frustrations/complaints that his/her function had about the other teams they interacted with most and depended on most. Then each leader, in turn, communicated what they wrote, and others tried to listen openly without reacting.
By the time everyone had a chance to give and get feedback the space of the room had changed. People seem to be more reflective and less defensive.
No one seemed to be surprised by what others said about them.
Everyone acknowledged that many of the issues and frustrations had been around for a long time.
In addition, everyone acknowledged that these dynamics were stifling teamwork, productivity, and performance.
So, I asked them:
“If everyone knows these negative dynamics are going on and hurting the team, why have you tolerated them for so long?”
A couple of leaders took offense and claimed that they tried to change things but didn’t succeed. However, when we examined their claim a bit deeper, they admitted that they made a few light attempts in the right direction, but without strong enough courage, conviction or persistence.
Why do leaders tolerate any level of toxicity around them?
There was a good dialogue in which leaders acknowledged that they had avoided these tough conversations because – in simple terms – these conversations are hard, messy, scary and risky.
You may think that this specific senior team is particularly wimpy or weak. Trust me, that is not the case. On the contrary, this team has accomplished great things. However, like so many other effective teams, when it comes to addressing the challenging conversations, they shy away from the heat.
After acknowledging their shortfalls, the leaders also acknowledged the negative consequences of their environment – the stress, discouragement, lack of collaboration, lack of fun at work and reduced quality and productivity.
I have a client who when describing his job, he refers to it as “his 8-hour inconvenience.” Can you imagine going to work in that space?
It doesn’t have to be this way. If you focus on the negative consequence associated with not addressing the tough conversation, you may be able to muster the courage to take a stand and say: “Enough Already!”, “No more!”. From that declaration, you can start doing things differently.
It takes courage, but it is extremely empowering!